By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
When Villaraigosa and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers hammered out Measure B, they failed to consult environmental heavyweights Gold and Lipkis. Both have tight connections to the Villaraigosa administration, yet both tell the Weekly they were never invited to the power table. This didn’t stop Gold from granting his full endorsement when the mayor finally came calling — after the fact. Gold even appeared in an online video enthusiastically backing Measure B.
Gold is no Marcia Hanscom or Bill Gallegos. He won’t criticize any aspect of Measure B. “It’s too easy a target,” he explains to the Weekly. Gold feels Villaraigosa’s work on green issues has been “superb.”
Measure B, in fact, was one of those mishandled opportunities — similar to California gay-rights honchos’ bungling of the campaign to defeat Proposition 8 — that can shake an entire movement to its core, prompting activists to demand publicly that their leaders change the way they do business. The gay-rights movement has been going through that transformation since it lost at the ballot box in November. By contrast, many environmentalists are hesitant to accept any blame or criticize City Hall. When L.A. Weekly brought up Measure B with various local environmentalists, for example, many responded with a tense sigh and a word or two about how it’s a “sensitive issue.”
Seemingly in denial, Stephanie Pincetl, director of the Center on People and the Environment at UCLA, blames the failure of the measure on former L.A. City Controller Laura Chick. Chick was considered a hero by many for saying publicly that Measure B, jammed with fine print that all but banned the involvement of the vibrant private solar-installation industry, “stinks.” After Chick made her surprising public break with Villaraigosa, neighborhood activists ramped up their already-boisterous attacks on Measure B. Pincetl is offended by all this. Chick shouldn’t have publicly “turned up the way [Measure B] was allegedly written up in secret,” Pincetl says with disgust. Pincetl even blames “yellow journalism” for hurting the ballot measure.
Parfrey recently jumped the fence from enviro to politico, named by Villaraigosa to the powerful Department of Water and Power Board of Commissioners. He shrugs off the Measure B fiasco, explaining, “If you look at the recent environmental initiatives, they all go down” — not quite true, with huge funds for mass transit being approved by voters last November in the form of an increased Los Angeles County sales tax and voters backing Proposition O in 2004, directing $500 million to clean up L.A.’s waterways and beaches. As if reading cue cards, he says the Measure B loss was a lesson of patience in a “long-term struggle” and contends: “We need to have a very robust public-engagement plan, and the [DWP] will be a part of that.”
But what are the chances that DWP, a slow-moving bureaucracy that takes its orders from politicians, and whose union under D’Arcy has long stood in the way of solar-energy development, will really play such a role?
Lipkis of Tree People, whose activism spans 35 years, believes Measure B exposed the greens’ lack of serious political power at the table. “Environmentalists are perceived as not having enough votes,” he suggests, “so environmentalists are perceived as not having enough clout.”
David Abel, publisher and editor in chief of the Planning Report, who followed the Measure B campaign closely, believes that “Southern California environmental leaders underestimate their political power and leverage in setting environmental policy” — which translates into a fundamental weakness in which enviros make ready concessions and let establishment types set the agenda, as long as they can claim an often unprovable win for “sustainability” or the fight against global warming.
John White, a lobbyist for green causes in Sacramento, says environmentalists in Los Angeles are perhaps more influential than those from other parts of California — due to their connections to wealthy political donors in the entertainment industry. If politicians want generous contributions from the Hollywood crowd, White explains, they need the blessings of environmental leaders, and then those pols must campaign on a strong “green” platform.
Yet there’s a disconnect in the minds of the leading environmentalists in L.A. Purportedly progreen politicians control the office of mayor, almost every Los Angeles City Council district, every Los Angeles Unified School Board seat, a majority of seats on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and, for years, both houses of the California Legislature — yet the greens seem oddly incapable of taking advantage of it.
Gold went out of his way to endorse Measure B, even though Mayor Villaraigosa drew it up without Gold’s input. What local union boss would stand for that? Certainly not D’Arcy, the outspoken, aggressive IBEW general manager.
Sacramento lobbyist White says environmental leaders have historically focused on “policy-oriented” work while barely cultivating the skills to deal with bigtime political operators like union chiefs and land speculators. “When dealing with these kinds of political matters,” says White, “it’s not in their experience.”
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